Leandro Higo expected to face James Gallagher first in the Bellator bantamweight grand prix, but “the chicken escaped one more time,” he told MMA Fighting.

Now booked to fight trash-talking up-and-comer Danny Sabatello, who earned a spot in the tournament with a win over Jornel Lugo, Higo is ready for battle — both inside and outside of the cage. Sabatello has repeatedly said Hugo “sucks” in every post-fight interview and social media post, to the point where Sabatello’s very first tweet, simply said: “Higo sucks.” With their quarterfinal match slated to go down at Bellator 282 on June 24, the Brazilian bantamweight vows that he is unfazed by his rival’s brash self-promotion.

“He took that opportunity to curse at me, but it’s always the same stuff, saying I suck and he’s great,” Higo told MMA Fighting. “He has to work more on his trash talk material. My mind is bulletproof for stuff like that. He’s not the first and won’t be the last to say s*** at me. He needs work, all he says is others suck and he’s great. He won’t affect any good fighter with that stuff.”

Higo added that Sabatello keeps repeating how great he is, but “hasn’t showed anything great yet” inside an MMA cage. The 29-year-old American is a former Titan FC champion who holds a 12-1 pro record after back-to-back Bellator wins over Brett Johns and Lugo.

Higo, likewise, is on a three-fight winning streak on his own, highlighted by a second-round rear-naked choke over Ricky Bandejas and a split decision over former Bellator champion Darrion Caldwell.

“All he’s shown so far is that same boring game he always does,” Higo said. “He doesn’t knock people out and doesn’t submit people. It’s always that same boring stuff, laying on top of guys for five rounds and leaving no marks on their faces. He won’t intimidate anyone in the grand prix with just that.

“He’s no different than anything I’ve ever faced. Every fight I had in Bellator was against wrestlers, except for ‘Dudu’ Dantas and Bandejas. In LFA, all wrestlers too. Nothing new to me. Darrion Caldwell was an NCAA champion, Aaron Pico … I’ve been there before.

“If he comes with that same game, he’ll eat a knee right in his mouth so he stops talking crap. If he shoots the way he always shoots, he’ll eat a knee right from the get-go. I’ll smash him. I’ll do to him what he does to everyone else. He’ll get a taste of his own medicine.”

A win against Sabatello guarantees Higo will be next to fight the interim belt against Raufeon Stots in the semifinal. The Brazilian said capturing Bellator gold is his biggest goal, which would make him “champion in every promotion I’ve ever fought, like Eddie Alvarez.”

Speaking with MMA Fighting recently, Stots said he’d prefer to meet Sabatello next — and in Higo’s eyes, that’s just the interim champion hoping for an easier foe.

“I’m a hard fight for everyone in the grand prix,” Higo said. “I’m no easy match for anyone. All Danny does is wrestling and it’s good for [Stots]. He wouldn’t put him in danger on the ground, and on the feet, it would easier for him to win this $1 million. That’s why everybody wanted James Gallagher first. Biggest reward with the lowest risk. Sabatello is talking a lot and would sell the fight well, but that won’t happen because he won’t get past me.”

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